AUSTIN, Texas — The Army recognizes the need to provide future soldiers with more durable and reliable power sources, and is experimenting with a variety of new and creative solutions to provide the power needed for technology-assisted warfare.
One such innovation uses commonly available filtered windshield washer fluid – which contains the key ingredient methanol – to charge soldiers’ mission-critical electronics – such as radios and situational awareness aids. – when traveling.
The tool, called Soldier Wearable Power Generator (SWPG), is a small mobile fuel cell capable of generating power through innovative thermal energy technology.
Developed in partnership with UltraCell, the SWPG weighs 5 pounds, is designed to be worn by a soldier on a back plate or carried in a backpack, and can drain with either filtered washer fluid or a mixture commercial methanol/water.
When properly filtered, 1 pound of washer fluid can provide enough power to charge the equivalent of three compliant portable batteries that weigh 7.8 pounds; reloadable rounds of the SWPG can be as small as 1 pound or as large as 24 pounds, depending on charging needs.
Beyond charging individual batteries, the SWPG is equipped to directly support software-based tactical systems such as Nett Warrior. It can also power battery charging energy harvesters, such as the Universal-Lite Battery Charger and hubs such as the Soldier’s Integrated Power and Data System. Although the SWPG alone provides 50 watts of base charging, it can be paired with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to help power hybrid charging systems that deliver increased surges.
The device, which does not become excessively hot or cause ventilation problems for the soldiers wearing it, seeks to meet the power needs of the army’s small unit by providing on-the-go recharging capabilities that extend battery life and minimize the need for frequent battery swapping or the use of heavy generators.
The Army’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center directs the service’s applied research and development in energy storage and power generation component technologies .
“Army researchers are continuously working on solutions to meet the anticipated needs of soldiers in this time of rapid modernization,” said Marnie Bailey, head of the C5ISR center’s food division. “The SWPG is the latest example of using our in-house expertise to enable greater soldier lethality.”
In addition to being compact, lightweight, and more efficient than traditional recharging methods, the SWPG is also significantly quieter than conventional gasoline or diesel generators – an important consideration in combat situations. Reception of the device has been positive, with soldiers saying the system does not interfere with their ability to conduct their operations.
The SWPG is just one of the unique technologies being evaluated in the field during this month’s Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The experiment, which is hosted annually by the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, takes a closer look at how small unit innovations – those aimed at advancing capabilities at the soldier and squad – can have powerful impacts on soldier manoeuvre, lethality and survivability.
Information gathered during AEWE informs the development of priority combat capabilities and supports the ongoing modernization work of Army Future Command’s cross-functional teams. For example, previous AEWE events helped shape iterative SWPG prototypes by incorporating valuable feedback from soldiers, which was then used to customize and improve the new device.
“AEWE serves as an engine of innovation, providing collaboration opportunities and points of contact for soldiers that allow capability developers to quickly iterate on tactical solutions,” said Col. Christopher Budihas, director of the combat laboratory of AEWE. military maneuver, adding that “the SWPG is a great example of what this engine of innovation can produce.”